Our energy future starts with the life we live today

Jade Eckardt

Food Smarts
with Jade Eckardt

HALEIWA—I still remember the day the whole neighborhood ventured out to post signs saying that we didn’t want Hawaii Electric and Light Company to install power into our East Hawaii neighborhood. “Save this tree,” “Keep out HELLCO,” were posted on all the coconut trees they wanted to cut down in order to install power lines.

It was the late 90s and I was about 14-years old. I’d grown up without electricity on Hawaii Island. We had power, but it was from solar. And to save what we could for nighttime energy, we had two 12-volt batteries in the house that would charge during the day and at night, we’d run our TV and VCR through an inverter. Many homes all over Hawaii Island also utilized rain water caught in our own catchments in our yards, but that’s another utility and another story altogether. 

When people hear I grew up without electricity, I often here the reply, “Oh my goodness, that’s crazy! Poor you.” Poor me? I was fine. I got hot showers, had a stove to cook on, and I could watch TV and listen to my stereo like any normal teenager. But the difference was that my shower was hot thanks to a propane water heater and stove that ran off of tanks we filled up in town. My TV ran off of power from an inverter that converted the energy from 12-volt to 9-volt, and my stereo had been converted right on the wire so it could plug into the wall.

When people give me that look of pity, I say, “We didn’t want power.” Hence the anti-HELCO signs. 

While I don’t deny enjoying the luxury of constant, never wavering electricity that fuels very hot showers, provides the constant option of indulgence into all of today’s electric-run technologies, I sometimes wish I could go back to my solar powered roots. It’s true that my electricity-free childhood did require small sacrifices: one movie at night instead of two, hanging our clothes instead of drying them, and maybe going music-free during a really rainy week. Although electricity is nice, the big fat electric bill we get each month makes a little lower energy on a gray day, and a propane run to town not seem so bad. And besides, what’s wrong with an old fashioned family game night instead of back-to-back blue ray movies on the big screen?

Since HELCO came in and cut down my neighborhood’s trees, the world’s come a long way in the journey for renewable energy. Hydro power, wind power, solar, they’ve all got their positive and negative aspects and so far there doesn’t seem to be one end-all-save-all renewable energy option. To me, it seems like the best offense to our energy issues begins at the consumer. We need to conserve, and growing up with limited propane in our tanks and solar energy in our batteries taught me how to do that. 

It seems as though people want an answer to our fossil fuel dependency problem, but that many of us want to keep living exactly how we do: drive the car everywhere we go, keep our huge TVs running for hours at night, dry every article of clothing in the dryer, have our iPads, MacBooks, iPods, iPhones charged and running at all times for entertainment. What seems to evident is that we can’t continue these lifestyles where we consume energy at such a high level, and deplete fossil fuels or turn Molokai and Lanai into wind farms so we can enjoy fluffy dryer dried towels instead of slightly stiff ones off the line.

To me it seems as though the bottom line is that if we want an answer to our energy dependency, we need to sacrifice a little within our own lives. 

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